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November 2008
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January 2009

Elderflower Syrup


This will be a very quick dispatch indeed, frustratingly quick, I'm afraid, because - people, this is big - I have tasted manna and I have no recipe for you and I can only hope you're all very distracted with Christmas plans and travel itineraries and far more important things than checking in with me here so that you won't entirely hate me once I tell you about this elixir and how we all not only have to wait for summer to make it ourselves, but source ourselves an elderberry bush, which as you might know is not so easy at all, no sirree, Bob.

I was at Joan's the other night, for the Springerle bake-off (more on that soon, I promise), when she innocently asked me if I wanted a cool drink. With her Holundersyrup, to be exact. Holunder is the German word for elderberry (and, more importantly, elderflower) and seeing as my mother, a very accomplished preserver, to be fair, was the source of some pretty gnarly elderberry preserves a few years ago, I wrinkled my nose (politely!) and said I'd try a small sip. You know, to be gracious. Well. Well. Yes. Let me try to explain what happened next.

I took a sip of cool tap water that Joan had mixed with a spoonful of the golden syrup. And suddenly, like a gentle thunderclap or a small fissure in the space-time continuum, I was transported. Summer, Berlin summer, was in my mouth! How odd. I stood in the kitchen, the wintry scent of cinnamon hanging lightly in the air, candles aglow and darkness swirling about outside - all hallmarks of Christmas in Berlin - and yet there I was, with summer in my mouth. Birds chirping, warm breezes blowing, blooming branches dropping petals on the sidewalk. It was all quite marvelous. After all, I haven't been to Berlin in the summer since 2001 and to say I've missed it would be the understatement of the decade.

So, now to explain to those souls out there who don't know the beauty that is summer in Berlin (seriously, dear readers, gas prices are plummeting, no one's traveling - book yourselves a flight already): elderflower syrup is fruity and sweet and cooling and refreshing, incredibly so, yet not cloying like rose water, even though it is floral. It's cool floral, not florid floral. Know what I mean? Am I making any sense? Should I shut up already? Just take it from me: elderfloral syrup is an absolute dream.

I don't have an exact recipe right now, though apparently Joan found one on the internet that she improvised with. Next summer, I promise, I'll make this in Italy, where we have lots of elderberry bushes growing wild, and I'll give you exact proportions. But, roughly speaking, here's what you do: get yourselves a whole mess of elderflower blossoms, some sugar, lemons, citric acid and a bit of water. Put it all in a crock (earthenware, I guess) and cover it and let it macerate in the dark for four days. Strain it and voila! Wait, that doesn't sound right. Maybe you let the elderflower blossoms and the citric acid and the lemon juice macerate for a few days and then you make a simple syrup with the sugar and water and then you mix it together with the strained elderflower liquid, and then voila! Hmm. I don't know.

But what I do know is that, man, I can't wait to have more of that stuff. And that I'm so happy to be here right now that I'd like time to stop. That's all.

Amy Scattergood's Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes with Fried Sage


I am, shall we say, a little distracted these days. I'm leaving for Germany in a little less than three days. And I'm not coming back until the first days of January. That's the longest vacation I've taken in a good bit and I'm sort of agog at the prospect of so much (badly-needed) time off. Time to see old friends, show more bits and pieces of Berlin to Ben, figure out where and when we're getting married, have my mom cook me dinner, spend time with my family, literal and figurative, and simply be in my hometown. I've missed it so much this year that Heimweh turned into a perpetual ache in my chest. I'm ready to be rid of that.

And though I'm not sure if this is entirely related to my distraction, my luck in the kitchen lately has been abysmal. Almost funnily so, though if you'd seen me yesterday, attacking an innocent pizza that had soldered itself to the baking stone in less than 25 minutes and was thus burned to an absolute crisp, rendering our casual late-afternoon lunch a blackened, unpleasant mess, you might have handed me a towel to mop my brow and commanded me to go take a walk around the block. Happy to oblige, thanks!

Not to be outdone, there was also a lackluster savory rice pie that I loved when my stepmother made, but that ended up a bland, insipid, tragic waste of Carnaroli rice when attempted in my own kitchen, and the unforgettable pickled endives that had such promise, but were a deeply unpleasant combination of sweetness, bitterness and spice that was not meant to be eaten by anyone, at least not anyone in my home.

Kitchen disasters, please be gone, would you?

But Christmas comes early this year: a holiday dinner tonight with friends, a liquid dinner of cocktails tomorrow, one meal airborne over the Atlantic and then - boom - I'm absolved of the rest of the year's meals. Strangely enough, I'm sort of pleased. I think my kitchen and I need a break. (Oh, except there's this one amazing soup I have to tell you about before I leave...).

I'm bringing my camera cable with me to Europe, since I'm going to be (finally!) documenting the annual Springerle bake-off with my friends Joan and Ann, and Ben's first encounter with a Currywurst (it might not happen, but I'll try - and in any case, after years of loyalty to the stand at Wittenbergplatz, it's time for me to branch out and try Konnopke's. Are there any Berliners out there who want to weigh in?). Then, best of all for you hungry folks, I'll be in Brussels for the last week of my holidays with my family who never fail to introduce me to some kind of stellar food. Last year, I brought back the focaccia di patate; this year, who knows? It will be delicious and I will share it: that is my solemn holiday promise to you.

Oh! And these potatoes! Well, for those of you for whom Christmas is not Christmas without mashed potatoes, and for those of you who find leftover mashed potatoes - formed into patties and fried, for example, or eaten cold from the fridge - to be your own personal nirvana, this is the recipe you must make this year. It is, in a word, insane.

After all, not only is there browned butter and fried sage (dreamy!) but there is Greek yogurt, too. Luscious, I tell you, and pleasingly different without being weird. Also, it makes mountains of mashed potatoes. Mountains! That is not an exaggeration. You will be inundated with thick, creamy, tangy, herby mashed potatoes. The good thing is they're so easy to keep eating, day after day. Croquettes, potato soup, shepherd's pie - is there anything that cannot be done with these leftovers? I have yet to find out.

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes with Sage
Serves 6 to 8 with leftovers

3 pounds baking potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
24 fresh sage leaves
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the potatoes in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with cold water by at least half an inch. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. When it begins to foam, add the sage leaves and gently fry until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel and reserve. Continue to cook the butter until it's golden brown and nutty, watching so that it doesn't burn, an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat just until hot, careful that the milk does not boil. Remove from heat and reserve in a warm place.

4. Drain the potatoes and place them into a large bowl. Using a masher, mash the potatoes to the desired consistency. Stir in the hot milk, yogurt, salt and pepper and browned butter, making sure to get all the dark butter solids. (Recipe can be prepared to this point a day in advance; refrigerate the potatoes tightly sealed and keep the sage in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.)

5. Garnish with the fried sage and serve. (If you have refrigerated the potatoes, gently reheat the mashed potatoes before serving, thinning if needed with additional milk. Garnish and serve.)

Nancy Silverton's Hot Fudge Sauce


Christmas is sneaking up on us unusually quickly this year. Or maybe it does this every year and every year I am surprised anew at how caught unawares I am. You'd think, by now, that the relentless reliability of it wouldn't quite discombobulate me so much, but it does. To make sure that gifts arrive before I take off for Berlin means I have to be done, really, with my shopping and crafting and noodling by - well - now. And that's just a kick in the pants.

I've taken to making at least a few of my gifts for people edible ones. That way, if there's a last-minute emergency, I don't have to wait for something to priority ship, I can just run down to the store and buy more syrup or chocolate. Last year, I made cashew brittle, which was a huge hit. And so, so easy. I mean, do-it-in-your-sleep easy. That's my kind of Christmas gift. I might just make it again this year, maybe for the people who didn't get any last year.


But I'll also be standing at my stove this year, simmering and whisking, until a thick, glossy, chocolate sauce comes together in a pot and I pour it into little glass jars, beribboned of course, to be doled out to deserving folks who need a little bit of molten chocolate to sweeten their holidays, to drizzle onto ice cream or pound cake, or simply to eat, from the fridge with a spoon, cold and fudgy and rich and complex.

Doesn't that sound like a lovely Christmas gift? Why, it's a good thing I can gift myself, too.


This might possibly be one of my oldest clipped recipes. It goes all the way back to 1998 and is a keeper, a category-killer, so to speak. First of all, it comes from Nancy Silverton, who happens to be a kitchen goddess of mine. Is there anything that lady touches that doesn't taste good? Second of all, it, too, is easy-peasy. You melt chocolate in one bowl, then boil together the rest of the ingredients (that most of us have lying about in our pantries already, thank goodness) in the other, then stir them together for a few minutes, whisk in some brandy and, hey presto!, you've got yourself a bubbling pot of hot fudge.

I love the high-sheen gloss on this stuff. It's gorgeously rich and keeps for months in the fridge, so you can jar little glasses of it and drop them off with people who you love. You'll have some very grateful friends, I guarantee. Fudge sauce makes anything better, wouldn't you say? Even the fact that Christmas is almost here.


Featured on Bon Appetit's Blog Envy slideshow!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Makes 2 cups

7 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tablespoon instant coffee granules
3 tablespoons Cognac or brandy

1. Melt chocolate pieces in large stainless steel mixing bowl (or top of double boiler) over saucepan of gently simmering water. Be sure water does not touch bottom of mixing bowl to prevent chocolate from burning. Turn off heat and keep warm over warm water until ready to use.

   2. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, cocoa powder and instant coffee to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly to dissolve cocoa powder and sugar and to prevent burning on bottom of pan.

   3. Whisk in melted chocolate. Boil hot fudge for few minutes to reduce to consistency you desire. It should be quite viscous and surface should have glossy shine. Cool slightly and beat in Cognac or brandy.

Zoe Nathan's Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake


I don't think I ever thanked you all for your myriad suggestions on what to do with the mountain of ricotta spilling from my fridge. My goodness! There were so many great ideas. If it were up to me, I'd do nothing but test my way through that list. But I have a blog to uphold! A mission statement! And a waistline! Ultimately, a recipe was waiting just under my nose, in the LA Times' Culinary SOS column. A towering cranberry-orange-cornmeal cake that used Two Whole Cups of Ricotta. Why, I'd get rid of it all and then some! Sold.

(And suddenly, just like that, my desire to bake an apple pie for Thanksgiving was gone. Poof! Rather odd, really. I sort of thought pie baking urges were quite unshakeable. Shows you how much I know.)

This cake is a monster. Seriously, get the biggest bowl you have to mix it in. There is so much batter it will possibly swallow you whole. Of course, it's entirely worth it. First of all, cranberries and orange - yes, please. Secondly, cranberries, orange and cornmeal - um, I said yes PLEASE. Thirdly, all of that, plus ricotta? Good grief, give me the mixer already.

I used less ricotta than called for, less sugar, and less salt. The first two because it's all I had, the last because 2 1/4 teaspoons of salt just seemed excessive. The batter gets quite thick: this is actually one of those times when I wish I had a stand mixer. But my edits don't seem to have harmed this cake at all: in fact, I found it perfect.


You mix half of the fresh cranberries directly into that thick, rich batter, then spoon it into a baking pan (a 9-inch spring form was the best size, I found) and top it with the remaining cranberries and a flurry of granulated sugar. In the oven, the cake rises impressively and gets beautifully burnished, that top layer of sugar turning crunchy and irresistible in the heat. Cooled and turned out of its pan, the cake is simply gorgeous. Sweet and tart, moist and nicely textured from both the relative coarseness of the cornmeal and the fluff of the ricotta - it was a total hit. Ben's sister asked me for the recipe about five times.

We ate it with slightly sweetened whipped cream after our Thanksgiving meal and for breakfast every day after that, oh, and for tea and as a pre-dinner snack and, well, let's just say that a cake this size, even with 8 hungry people in the house, lasts longer than you'd expect.

Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake
Serves 18

2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4  sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided (I used 1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used only 1 teaspoon)
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups ricotta cheese (I used 1 and 1/2 cups)
2 1/2 cups cranberries, divided

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round by 3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, 1 cup sugar, salt and zest. Mix just until thoroughly combined; do not overmix.

4. With the mixer running, slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the butter just until combined.

5. With the mixer on low speed, add one-half of the flour mixture to the batter and quickly mix for 5 seconds. Turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour, the ricotta and one-half of the cranberries. Mix the remaining ingredients into the batter over low speed just until combined, being careful not to overmix.

6. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining cranberries over the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Place a loose piece of foil over the top of the cake if it starts to darken. Cool the cake on a wire rack before removing it from the pan.

Amy Scattergood's Quick Cassoulet


I cannot, for the life of me, stand the sight of turkey any more. We were meant to take a Tupperware packed with shreds of it home with us when we left Beacon yesterday, but forgot it in the fridge. Honestly, it was a relief. I think I've come quite far in battling my aversion to leftovers, but progress has its limits. Four meals in a row is plenty, wouldn't you say?

But in case you aren't entirely over turkey yourself yet, or if you'd like to know the best way I transformed leftovers into a new meal, this post is for you. It was my turn at lunchtime on Saturday to make a meal for the assembled members of Ben's family gathered upstate to celebrate Thanksgiving. I'd had this recipe from Amy knocking around in my files for years, faithfully toting it with me each year to Thanksgiving, but never actually using it. Finally, this year, the recipe had its star turn.

Well, a version of it anyway. If Amy calls this Quick Cassoulet, then I'll call what I did on Saturday Speediest Cassoulet. Or Cassoulet Vite Vite, perhaps. Any suggestions? Instead of starting with dried beans, I bought canned beans (pinto, because I love them, but Amy says you should use cannellini or Great Northern). Instead of uncooked sausage, I used cooked chicken sausage, because it's all we had in the fridge. I used more tomatoes and less chicken stock than she did and I cut a bit off the time here and there.

What resulted was lovely: a garlicky, juicy stew that filled the house with Mediterranean fragrances, most welcome after a few days of Puritan cooking. The velvety beans, bright tomatoes, and aromatic herbs livened up the turkey and the crunchy bread crumb crust was delicious. It is one of my personal kitchen goals to make a real cassoulet one day, complete with Tarbais beans and Toulouse sausage and seven hours in the oven, or whatever it takes, but I'm quite pleased with my first foray into cassoulet cooking.

And it got rid of at least two whole cups of leftover turkey meat, which was truly great.

Quick Cassoulet
Serves 8

1 pound dried white beans (such as cannellini, Great Northern or Tarbais) or 2 14-oz cans of cannellini or pinto beans
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound uncooked sausage, in individual links (use garlic, Toulouse sausage or mild Italian)
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
7 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 stem parsley, 2 whole sprigs fresh sage)
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, including juice
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups stale white bread, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 cups roast turkey, preferably dark meat, skin removed

1. Place the dried beans, if using, in a large pot with enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil, take them off the heat and let sit for an hour. Drain and set aside. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large braising pot with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and then add the sausage, browning it on all sides over medium-high heat, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pot and set aside. Into the same pot with the fat remaining from the sausages, add the onions and carrots. Cook them until soft, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add 6 cloves minced garlic, the bouquet garni, tomatoes with juice, drained beans (dried or canned), chicken stock, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Lay the sausages on the top, cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours (just 45 minutes to an hour if your beans are canned).

4. In a food processor, pulse the stale bread until you have fine crumbs; add the remaining minced garlic, the parsley and 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse until combined. Set aside.

5. Remove the cassoulet from the oven and arrange the turkey alongside the sausages, pressing in slightly with a spoon. Add a little stock to cover the beans, if needed. Spread the bread crumb mixture on top. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes; the crust should be golden and bubbly.